Nature Makes Sense

Last week the snow hit and just like that I realized I was feeling totally unprepared for what was coming in the Community Greenhouse. As I was shovelling it out I fretted, how do we keep the plants warm and happy in January with no heat? What happens if we get an outbreak of aphids? Are the plants getting enough carbon dioxide?


And so I wrapped myself in a blanket and pulled out Eliot Coleman’s book The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses. He is a lovely writer and a phenomenal treasure trove of great growing systems and hard facts about how he does what he does at Four Season Farm.

He set me straight, assured me plants to want to grow through the winter and it can all be quite simple and straightforward. He had an especially amazing perspective on disease and pest management in the greenhouse, which just the thought of what I don’t know and understand, makes me shake in my bones. He sums up his approach when he states “nature makes sense”.

Whew, okay.

So when problems do hit and your plants aren’t doing so hot the question begs, what am I doing wrong? Well here is a great list of questions to help your identify your misstep and start on the road of growing healthy happy plants that will do their best to resist the temptations of pests and disease.

In the words of Elliot Coleman, ask yourself:

  • Is the soil ready for that crop, or should the rotation or choice of cultural practices be changes? (Some, like the Brassica, benefit from higher nitrogen availability; others, like tomatoes, will produce all leaves and no fruit when given extra nitrogen.)
  • How long ago were the green manure or crop residues turned under? (Three weeks is the minimum. The soil bacteria need time to digest the green matter and return the soil to its balanced state.)
  • Was the compost mature? (…Immature compost can cause a wide range of problems.)
  • What was the preceding crop? (If it was a heavy feeder, are more nutrients necessary?)
  • Have you corrected the mineral deficiencies indicated by your soil test? (Trace elements can often be the key. You need a complete soil analysis to get that information.)
  • Were the transplants stressed? (If transplanting on a dry, windy day, you need to irrigate immediately…)
  • Have you chisel-plowed or subsoiled to break up the hardpan? (Impenetrable or airless conditions under the surface are invisible until you plant a crop and then wonder why it is having problems. Take a shovel and do some digging to find out.)
(From The Winter Harvest Handbook, 2009, pg. 182)

I’m on my way to the library now to pick up his other well-known book, The Four Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh Organic Vegetables From Your Home Gardens All Year Long. I’m not sure what other wisdom it will bestow but I will keep you posted. 

Written by: Garity Chapman


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